Shelly and I haven't gotten our hiking on in a while and it is starting to get pretty cool in the mountains, so we picked out a nice desert hike near the John Day River. We decided to head to Cottonwood Canyon State Park which is the newest of Oregon's state parks, and is in a remote canyon on what used to be a working ranch.
There is the fast way on the major highway I-84 carrying thousands of people thousands of miles at 70-80 mph, or route 74 that winds through the Blue Mountain foothills and small towns with a few hundred folks working the land where the road is slow and life is slower. Today I think I will just share some photos from the journey there.
We started our day heading into some pretty remote country. The old highway through the Blue Mountain foothills tends to encounter old Oregon Trail locations, canyons and high grassland plateaus. Sometimes it is good for wheat, but often not, so cue the sheep and the cattle. The canyons are deep, and cell reception spotty. In the bottoms are scattered small ranches, and remnants of old towns that were meaningful before the highway or the railroad chose to leave them out. That lack of humankind makes for a plethora of wildlife opportunities though, and I would rather spend the morning with them anyway. So here are a few things we encountered.
The shots below are from a hole in the road called Vinson. It was where a road to a town called Gurdane takes off. I have gone to Gurdane once in the past. It is a carry water kind of remote, and pretty much doesn't exist anymore with a few graves next to the road and big old barns falling in on themselves at the break between the grasslands and the forest.
Vinson itself has what looked to be a hotel and gas stop which serves as somebody's home now, and a few old outbuildings that I think are still used for farming.
From Vinson we headed towards Heppner and encountered lots of wildlife out for breakfast. We probably encountered several hundred deer. All nice, fat and healthy which is a pleasure to see. It made for some slow driving making sure that I wasn't going to be wearing one as a hood ornament.
We arrived at Heppner which is actually still a thriving (I use that term loosely) small town. It is known for its great St. Paddy's day celebration, and being the home of the worst weather disaster in Oregon's history. It actually was world-wide news when it occurred in 1903.
A thunderstorm dumped a ton of rain upstream, and a flash flood came into town and the debris created a dam behind a large building. When it let loose, it was a wall of water estimated at 50 ft (maybe 15 meters) high. It killed at least 250 people which was a lot for a small remote town. Many were never recovered. Help was sent from around the world to assist in the recovery. What's funny is that you have so many anti-globalist Trump loving folks out that way now. Much of that is driven by the loss of jobs in timber and environmental regulatory stressors on their livelihoods however.
I was supposed to turn onto a highway 206 at Heppner, but missed my turn and got on a remote highway that took us back the 50 miles towards the interstate. While that was not great, we did get to head through another tiny town called Cecil which I had never heard of. It had an old ranch that had a sign indicating that this was an Oregon trail stop during the 1840s.
There was a small old store that was no longer in operation with some guy in a rocking chair on the porch. I asked him if I could take a photo of him and the building and he said sure. He also indicated we could go in through the back where he was living and look in the store at a few of the things still left over in there. It was almost like a museum the way some things were untouched. We really enjoyed it, and it was very kind of him. The store is owned by a sheep ranch now, and they rent it out to folks, and this guy was an elk hunter and was using it.
The man on the porch told us there is a dance hall upstairs, but you can't get up there any more. He said that Doc Severinson the famous trumpet player from the tonight show with Johnny Carson grew up nearby, and actually played up there once. Crazy. I looked it up and he was born at nearby Arlington. You can't believe everything on the internet, but never doubt a stranger on a porch in a rocking chair.
Well after Cecil we headed for the state park, and our hike, and I will post on that in the coming days, but we really enjoyed our back road adventure. Full of great surprises. The picture below is from a detour we took, before getting back on track. This address cracked me up, and I was a little envious.